ST. PETERSBURG — The season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was only a lap in when fans got a view of a sight they should probably get used to seeing throughout the IndyCar Series season.
"Amazing the amount of stuff that fell off," runner-up and pole-sitter Will Power said. "Rabbit ears lying all around the track. It was just everywhere, right?"
The reason for the cars' carnage was because of the aero kits that debuted Sunday.
Honda and Chevrolet both built their own bodywork to pair with their engines. To gain speed in the corners, the manufacturers added extra, light-weight flaps and winglets to the cars' fronts and rears.
"Of course when you add more flaps and more wings," third-place finisher Tony Kanaan said, "the chances to see more pieces flying are greater."
Which is exactly what happened. The first caution for debris came on the second lap, after bits from the new aero kits scattered on the front stretch and in Turn 9.
Three of the race's first five cautions (and 12 laps) were because of debris, in Turns 9, 10 and 12, with Marco Andretti (10th place) among the damaged cars. Sixty laps into the race, Honda had already replaced at least seven wings.
"I broke, I think, three wings today," said Simona de Silvestro, who was on a one-race deal with Andretti Autosport and finished 18th. "One of them was good contact but the other two were not that bad, and the thing just broke."
In addition to slowing the overall pace, the damage noticeably affected the drivers' steering.
Power had closed his gap to leader and eventual winner Juan Pablo Montoya to within a few car lengths. But after his No. 1 Team Penske Chevy hit the back of his teammate, Power lost one of the front wing's vertical bits that Power calls rabbit ears. He said he lost some of the traction in the corners after that, allowing Montoya to pull away.
"They're not there for no reason," Power said. "They spend millions of bucks and have wind tunnels to have nice little rabbit ears. It's better if you don't knock 'em off."
The new cars accomplished their main goal — faster speeds. Power set a qualifying record Saturday by three-tenths of a second. Sunday, teammate Helio Castroneves had the fastest race lap in the event's history (61.86 seconds — almost half a second quicker than last year's top mark.
Because Sunday was the season opener, drivers expected it to be a feeling-out process to learn how to handle the new bodywork and speeds. Kanaan said they'll eventually figure out how little contact the extra parts allow and what passes they should attempt instead.
"In a way, I think it's a good thing," Kanaan said. "In the past, I think we had too much of a strong car, that we would use that against each other, nothing would happen. Nowadays you're going to have to think about what to do."